Justice T.U.Mehta



Buddhism belongs to the Sramana-tadition of Indian thought as distinguished from Vedic tradition. Like Jainism it has taken birth at that time which was surcharged with the fervor of spiritual renaissance. When Buddha was born, the foundations of Vedic rituals were already shaken by some of the great Rsis of Upanisadas, and of late, by his contemporary Mahavira. Emphasis was given on self exertion by undergoing strict spiritual discipline and rigorous austerities. During the early days of his spiritual expermentation, Buddha also took to severe austerities and determined to seek truth through austerities when he said to himself, "Ihasane susyatu me sariram" (Let me body be dried up in this seat but I will not get up till I get enlightenment).

However, unlike Mahavira, severe austerities did not help Buddha. He relented and adopted a middle course and found solace. He tried almost every path, which was prevalent in his times, in search of truth, but failed. Finally he chalked out his own path which was absolutely rational and logical. He refused to go into the fogs of misty metaphysics and directly touched ethics and psychology of human affairs. Like Mahavira he also propounded a religion which was independent on an inward change of heart. His persistent refusal to delve into the mysteries of life, made his approach more direct and explicit both to the common men and the intellectuals of his times and earned him greater following in India and abroad. However, this very factor proved responsible for introducing varied and very often contradictory interpretations of what he said and preached, with the result that the Buddhism, which we see today, seems to have practically nothing in common with what the Master is supposed to have originally taught. In the second century after Buddha not less than eighteen schools of Buddhistic doctrines can be traced. We shall therefore confine our attention only to leading basic principles of early Buddhism.


Sufferings of Life

The starting point of Buddhist philosophy is the suffering in life. In fact Buddha's spiritual journey started, when he saw that human life is full of suffering at every stage. He, as a prince, was rolling in luxury and was guardedly kept away from experiencing the miseries of human sufferings. But when once he was out on the roads of his own ‘Kapilavastu' he saw an old man bowed down by age, a sick man scorched by fever, and a corpse carried and followed by mourning relatives, a serious conflict started in his mind which awakened his consciousness. As he found that there was suffering at every stage of life and if that was so, there must be some way out of it. Then he also saw an ascetic, a mendicant, who had renounced the world, and who appeared to have attained an equanimity which was rarely to be found amongst those, who engrossed in the sensual objects of life. There he found a possible answer to the inner turmoil which was going within. Realizing the emptiness of things of senses, he renounced the world, stealthily leaving his sleeping wife and little child in bed. Thus the sight of human suffering was the starting point of his spiritual explorations and the same became the starting point of his philosophical expositions.


Four Arya-Satyas

He came to the conclusion that there are four basic truths of life. They are --

(1) There is suffering - ‘Duhkha'.

(2) Every suffering has a cause - ‘Duhkha-Samudaya'.

(3) It is possible to overcome this suffering - ‘Duhkha Nirodha'.

(4) There is a way to overcome sufferings - Duhkha-Nirodha-Marga.

He said, unless we fully comprehend these four basic realities which he called ‘Arya-satya', there is no way to achieve peace or happiness in life.

He, thus, directly touched the pulse of this sick universe. Unlike Mahavira, he did not attempt to explain the mysteries of universal phenomena, namely, who created the universe, what are the basic elements constituting the universe, is there any divine force which controls our lives and all happenings around us, what happens when we die etc. He flatly refused to answer there questions saying that they are ‘Avyakrta', that is, those which serve no purpose in asking or answering. To a questioner of such questions his reply was straight. He asked his question that if somebody thrust a poisoned arrow in his chest, would he wait first to ascertain who smeared the arrow with poison and what kind of poison it was, or would he like at once to be treated by some effective medicine by a good doctor ? The answer provided by the Master by such a direct counter question was indeed very effective. First concern of every sick man is to get relieved of his sickness. If we find that the life is full of sufferings, our first concern should be to acknowledge that fact and to try to find our proper means to remove these sufferings. Buddha believed that salvation of soul which results in the end of all sufferings does not depend upon the minute distinctions of metaphysics and refinement of reason.

Even Mahavira proclaimed that this Samsara is full of sufferings (Aho dukkho hu samsaro). But he preferred to go deep into the matter and explained the cause of sufferings in context of the universal scheme. He, therefore, analysed the constituents of the universe, ascertained their character as well as functioning and tried to reveal the whole process which shapes the universal phenomena. This necessarily takes one to the field of metaphysics, where mere reason and logic may not prove sufficient to explain all the happenings. Buddha knew this, and he also knew that it was not of much practical use to involve one's energies in such trans-logical discussion. He therefore simply brushed aside all such questions by resorting to the formula of ‘Anyakrta' which did not either affirm or contradict various metaphysical theories prevalent in his times.

First Arya-satya - With reference to the first fundamental truth that there is constantly some sort of suffering in life, he pointed out that birth is painful, decay is painful, disease is painful and death is also painful. Union with unpleasant is painful. Union with unpleasant is painful and equally painful is the separation from te pleasant. Any craving that is not satisfied, that too is painful because cravings, desires, disease, decay and death are the inevitable constituents of life.

Some thinkers have charged this attitude as unduly pessimistic by saying that it has a tendency to blacken what is dark and to darken what is grey. This, however, is not the proper appreciation of what the Master has meant. If a doctor points out to our disease and suggests a remedy we do not dub him as pessimistic. Disease can be removed and life can be made enjoyable, if you have a proper diagnosis and right remedies. Mahavira also put equal emphasis on the sufferings of existence. But both Mahavira and Buddha showed the way to avoid sufferings and to obtain absolute bliss which brings undiluted happiness and joy. As Dr.S.Radhakrishnan puts it : "Buddha does not preach the mere worthlessness of life or resignation to an inevitable doom. His, is not the doctrine of a finer quality, an ‘Arhat' state.


Second Arya-satya - The second fundamental truth is that our sufferings are not without reason; there is a cause which generates our suffering. Our intellectual awareness demands that we should try to find out these causes. The problem cannot be over simplified by saying that our sufferings are the punishments inflicted on us by some superior power which rules the destiny of the whole universe. Like Mahavira Buddha also did not believe in a super power ruling the destiny of the universe and Mahavira and Buddha both believed in the theory of Karma as shaped by ethical earnestness and personal efforts. In answer to a question seeking reason for the inequalities found in life everywhere, the master replied -

"Every living being has Karma as its master, its inheritance, its congenial cause, its kinsman, its refuge. It is karma that differentiates all beings into low and high states." --- ( Milinda, 65)

Like Mahavira, Buddha also believed that it is the annihilation of all karmas-good as well as bad - which leads one to the state of Arhatship and Nirvana, and that after attaining Nirvana, which literally means extinction, one is not born again.

What is the main cause of suffering ? ‘Desires' is the answer of the Master. Our desires - desires for the things which are constantly vanishing, desires which are born out of our ignorance about the transient character of the things desired, constitute the root cause of all our sufferings.

To understand the process by which the causes of our sufferings operate, Buddhism has propounded the theory of ‘conditioned origination or dependent origination' which is known as the doctrine of ‘Pratitya-samutpada' according to which each preceding link (Nidana) is responsible for ushering in the next one. These links (Nidanas) are twelve. The first link is Avidya, i.e., ignorance. Conditioned by this ignorance, arise karma formations (Samskara). They in turn give rise to consciousness (Vijnana); Vijnana gives rise to name and form (Nama-Rupa) which in turn gives rise to six sense-organs (Sadayatana). Then arises contact (Sparsa), then feeling (Vedana), then thirst (Trsna), then attachment (Upadana), then becoming (Bhava), then birth (Jati) and then decay and death (Jara-Marana). This way the whole process of Samsara goes on.

Thus the root cause is Avidya - ignorance out of which false desire springs.

According to Buddhism everything in this universe is impermanent and transitory. Buddhism believes in the existence of soul and also in rebirth. But according to it even the soul is not permanent. Here it differs from Jainism. It explains the theory of rebirth and transmigration by asserting that the process of cause and effect is so constant that it only ‘appears' that there is continuity. Fact of the matter, the Buddhists assert, is that the life is nothing but a series of manifestations of becomings and extinctions. It is a stream running from moment to moment just like a flow of a river, the water of which is never the same or like a burning flame which appears to be the same and unchanged but which is another every moment.

Third Arya-satya - The third Arya-satya is that it is possible to overcome the suffering (Nirodha). Here also the process of ‘conditioned origination or dependent origination' is invoked. The process is that conditioned by the suffering of decay and death (Jara-Marana), there arises Faith (Sraddha) then Delight (Pramoda), then Joy (Priti), then Serenity (Prasrabdhi), then Bliss (Sukha), then State of trans (Samadhi), then Vision to see things are (Yathabhuti-jnana-darsana), then Non-attachment (Nirveda), then Detachment (Viraga), then knowledge of destruction of inflow of karmas (Asrava-Kasaya-Jnana). This is the process of Nirodha.

Fourth Arya-satya : Astanga-marga - The fourth Arya-satya is that there is a way to liberation from sufferings. This way is eight-fold, namely -

(1) Right view which is similar to Samyag-darsana of Jainas, (2) Right resolve, (3) Right speech, (4) Right action, (5) Right livelihood, (6) Right effort, (7) Right mindfulness and (8) Right state of trance.

This is called Noble Eight-fold Path known as ‘Astanga-marga'.


Doctrine of Conditional Origination

Some Buddhist scholars claim that the doctrine of conditional origination is not the doctrine of causation which implies an element of continuity. The doctrine of simply means that ‘B' in its origination conditioned by ‘or' dependent on ‘A'. In other words, ‘B' is originated rather on the extinction of ‘A' but being conditioned by the existence of ‘A'. The Buddhist logic is that if ‘A' and ‘B' are taken as identical, that leads us to eternalism (Sasvatavada). But Buddhism is based on the theory of transitoriness and so would not admit of any principle of eternalism. On the other hand, if ‘A' and ‘B' are taken as totally different identities, that takes us to nihilism (Ucchedavada) which is also an extreme view. So Buddhism discards both the extremes and accepts the middle course by evolving the doctrine of ‘conditioned origination or dependent origination'. Thus denying the eternity of soul (Jiva), the Buddhists justify the theory of karma and rebirth explaining that when the soul is reborn it attains the status of ‘B' but is conditioned by the karmas earned by the previous link ‘A'.

In my humble view this whole exercise of ‘conditioned origination' involves a strained logic to save the theory of transitoriness of the soul. Element of permanence, which is attributed to the soul by all systems of metaphysical thoughts in India, is capable of explaining various universal phenomena exhibiting a sort of continuity amidst the complexity of enormous changes. Buddhism indirectly accepts this position when it asserts that ‘B' is originated being ‘conditioned' by ‘A'. Why ‘B' should be ‘conditioned' by ‘A' if these is nothing common between the two ? Things having nothing in common which would either attract or repel the other, can never get ‘conditioned' by each other. And if there is some ‘common' element in two things which has the conditioning influence over to each other, that conditioning influence supplies the element of permanence. Such an element of permanence is called ‘Jiva' by the Jainas and ‘Brahma' by the Vedantists.

Jaina philosophers, have should the problem by their theory of Nayavada. They say that purely from theoretical standpoint the ‘Jiva' is permanent. It was never die. This is called ‘Niscaya naya' (Real view-point). However, from the practical point of view when ‘Jiva' in association with ‘Karmas' takes ‘birth' and then ‘appears' to die with the body of its ‘birth', it ‘appears' to be transitory. So when we say that soul is transitory, what we assert is a practical or empirical standpoint which is known as ‘Vyavahara naya'.

Buddhist theory of transitoriness of soul has led it to the doctrine of ‘Nirvana' which literally means ‘extinction'. The root ‘Va' means to blow; prefix ‘Nir' means ‘out' or ‘off'. So, literally ‘Nirvana' means ‘blowing out'. Logically, therefore, Nirvana means end of worldly existence.

Jainas do not believe that Jiva cease to exist on attainment of Siddhahood. Since karmas are destroyed, Siddhahood, according to Jainas, is the bodiless existence of soul. This is the state of formless Brahma (Nirakara-Brahma) of the Vedantist.

It, therefore, appears that in their search of Madhyama-Marga (Middle course) the Buddhists have carried their doctrine of transitoriness (Ksanikavada) to the extreme by applying it even to the existence of soul. This gives an impression of Anatmavada (denial of the existence of soul).

Jaina approach on this aspect appears to be more logical and scientific. Dr. S. Radhakrishna interestingly observes, in this connection, as under :

"It is impossible to think Buddha recognized nothing permanent in this rush of the world, no resting place in the

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universal turmoil where man's troubled heart can find peace. However, much Buddha tried to refuse to reply the question of ultimate reality which lay beyond the categories of the phenomenal world, he did not seem to have any doubt about it. There is an unborn, unoriginated, an unmade, an uncompounded; were there not. Oh mendicants, there would be no escape from the world of the born, the originated, the made and the compounded." (Udana, VIII.3)



Buddhism passed through three great phases of its developments, known as Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

The word ‘Yana' means vehicle, ‘Hinayana' means ‘Little vehicle'. It was so called by the ‘Mahayanists' because it preaches salvation of oneself, the individual soul only. It insists upon the necessity of monastic life. According to it ones personality is illusory. It emphasizes non-selfhood (Nairatmyata) of existence.



Literally it means ‘great vehicle' which is so called because it teaches the salvation of all. thus, it is more social in outlook. It is predominantly devotional and metaphysical in its character. Vajrayana



It means ‘diamond vehicle' or the ‘adamant way' so called because like the irresistible vajra it annihilates all obstacles to the Nirvana by highly esoteric Yogic exercises and development of spiritual power.


Some common characteristics of Jaina and Buddhist ideology

We have already pointed out the agreement and disagreements between these two Sramanic ideologies. Following are the main common characteristics between the two --

(1) Both are ascetic in nature. Both believe in ‘Nivrtti-dharma' as distinguished from ‘Pravrtti-dharma' of the Vedas. Hence both believe in asceticism or Path of renunciation.

(2) Self reliance - Both believe that liberation of self from bondage is in its own hands.

(3) Denial of any super-power as the final arbitrator of our destiny.

(4) There are infinite souls each striving for its own liberation.

(5) Non-souls cannot be called Maya. They are as real as souls.

(6) Both believe that Vedas are not of divine origin and cannot be taken as final and absolute authority.

(7) Outright rejection of caste distinction by both. It is Karma and not birth which can decide a social class to which one belongs. All souls have equal potentiality to be liberated.

(8) Non-recognition of four Asramas in life by Buddhists and partly even by Jainas who put great emphasis on total renunciation and austerities.

(9) Rejection of Avatarvada by both.

(10) Tirthankaras and Buddhas were born as human and attained total liberation by their own efforts.

(11) The words of Tirthankaras and Buddhas provide proper guidance but to gain liberation one has to exert himself, without any favours from above.

(12) Shedding of karmas by avoiding desires and attachment is the only path of salvation.

(13) Rituals and ceremonies are of no help in case the inner development is wanting.

(14) Non-violence (Ahimsa) in every field of life is the guiding principle.